“At seven or eight thousand meters high, you wake up every five minutes because of sleep apnoea”

João Garcia, the first Portuguese who, on May 18, 1999, reached the summit of Everest, the highest mountain in the world, with 8850 meters, tells iSleep that at high altitudes “the air is thin and we have to breathe at least three times more to stay alive”. Reaching the summit of Everest had, however, a very high price: his friend Pascal Debrouwer, who accompanied him on the climb, sadly died. João Garcia himself suffered serious injuries in the hands and nose. The mountain climber reminds iSleep that before the tragedy he was able to have a reasonable rest period at 7100 meters high without using oxygen:

!At this altitude the air is thin and we have to breathe at least three times more to stay alive. Typically, the body is ‘set’ into a respiratory rate of about 15 times per minute, or even lower, as it tries to look for a baseline and for recovery. At seven or eight thousand meters high, either the body adapts to this rhythm or you wake up every five minutes because of sleep apnoea”. João Garcia notes that, even when the body is more or less adapted, “there are many unpleasant feelings while falling asleep, such as of intense cold, since the night temperature inside the tent is -20ºC. The fact that we have little oxygen in the air makes us be constantly gasping for survival”.

The climber warns that he is talking about “real, hardcore, climbing”, which means going “without the use of artificial respiration means such as oxygen bottles”, even when sleeping. In A Mais Alta Solidão [The Highest Solitude, not translated], a work where he describes in detail the Everest expedition with Pascal Debrouwer, there are several parts about sleep: “Pascal did not want to sleep at 7800/7900m high. He said it was too high, that we would spend a terrible night and he wanted to go down, and that is what we ended up doing (…). I stayed at Camp 1 sleeping. On the Camp 1 night, Pascal decided to nevertheless proceed until ABC because he maintained that at that altitude one should not sleep without oxygen – in fact, one should not sleep at all (…). After three attempts (of Everest climbing), I already had an idea of how my body would react, I knew that the trick was to expose the body as little as possible to the altitude. The great enemy and the great difficulty of climbing to Mount Everest is not the pure technical climbing itself, but the resistance that you must have, the harm that the altitude does to the body. Man was not made to live in those regions (…). I was able to have a rest period at 7100m high. My body did not resent that much and had the advantage of sleeping alone. In a tent just for me there would be no bumps, no-one next to me coughing and waking me up. This turned out to be an advantage.”

In the same Everest expedition, alone, exhausted and with injuries on the body, João Garcia still managed to have a few moments of sleep, although quite restless, at about 8000 meters high. As soon as it dawned he could see the way, go down the field below and find help, as he describes in his book.


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